29 Jun 2017

Sport: Tonga embraces home support ahead of must-win clash

1:41 pm on 29 June 2017

The Tonga rugby team are enjoying home comforts and insist they won't be overcome by expectation when they host their first rugby international in eight years at the weekend.

The 'Ikale Tahi face Samoa in Nuku'alofa on Saturday, in a must-win Rugby World Cup qualifying match.

It will be their first home test since 2009 following upgrades to the drainage and facilities at Teufaiva Stadium.

Looking to the gates at Teufaiva

Looking to the gates at Teufaiva Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

The squad has been in camp in Tonga for two weeks and prop Ben Tameifuna said they had been well received by the home fans.

"It's quite a buzz in and around the country at the moment - obviously knowing that we're back here, why we're here and in the team only two players from the squad have played in Teufaiva (Nili Latu and David Halaifonua)," he said.

"I think it's an awesome feeling to be back here in Tonga, especially to have the home advantage, and obviously you know how the Tongans celebrate and support - it's a different kind of animal."

Tonga fullback David Halaifonua holds off the Welsh defence.

David Halaifonua played in the last test at Teufaiva Stadium in 2009. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The France-based front rower is a popular member of the 'Ikale Tahi squad and made his belated test debut two weeks ago, in the 24-6 defeat by Wales in Auckland, after a series of false starts.

"Finally got to put the jersey on and just happy to be here in and amongst these young, keen boys," he said.

"We're building nicely and to be in camp here and especially to put the jersey on for your country is obviously something special.

"I enjoy it and it was awesome. Obviously we didn't get the resulty but it's a building stone for us and we're heading in the right direction."

Ben Tameifuna (c) will finally make his 'Ikale Tahi debut at Eden Park.

Ben Tameifuna passes the ball in training. Photo: RNZI / Vinnie Wylie

Tonga were beaten in Samoa and Fiji last year and need to beat both of their Pacific rivals in Nuku'alofa to have a chance of securing automatic World Cup qualification for Japan 2019.

Despite the importance of the occasion, Tameifuna insisted the team was not feeling any added pressure.

"We're just taking it week by week. We're just worrying about us: this is our moment, this is our time to shine and if we just focus on that the results will come our way," he said.